New York lawmakers agree to curb Cuomo’s powers in scandal rebuke
New York legislative leaders announced an agreement Tuesday to curb pandemic-related emergency powers granted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year, in the latest blow to his tenure amid growing calls for him to resign over dual scandals.
The Legislature will probably act on the bill as soon as Friday, Democratic Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner said Tuesday on Twitter. The measure would repeal the extraordinary powers lawmakers gave Cuomo at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting his directives to those “necessary to reduce the spread or increase vaccinations.” On a broader level, it would require the governor to provide online reporting on all executive orders, increasing transparency, Woerner wrote.
Cuomo, 63, a third-term Democrat, is facing investigations over accusations from three women of inappropriate behavior, and questions over whether his administration purposely concealed data on COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents. Several Democratic lawmakers have called on the governor to step down, and others have suggested impeachment.
A call to Cuomo’s office for comment on the agreement wasn’t returned.
“These temporary emergency powers were granted as New York was devastated by a virus we knew nothing about,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement that didn’t address either scandal. “Now it is time for our government to return to regular order.”
Other components of the bill would restore the rights of counties and municipalities to issue executive orders without state approval. Cuomo has faced criticism from local officials, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, for asserting authority over decisions about school and business closings amid the pandemic.
State lawmakers have been debating a curb on Cuomo’s emergency power for weeks. Although state Republicans have already proposed similar measures, the united approach from Democrats, who hold a supermajority in both houses, highlights growing tension against the governor among members of his own party as the scandals mount.
In January, a report from New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James said that more residents died in nursing homes of COVID-19 than the state Department of Health had reported. A top Cuomo aide admitted on a private call with lawmakers that the state withheld data because it was afraid of a federal investigation.
On Monday, the New York Times reported an account of Cuomo’s behavior from Anna Ruch, who said he put his hand on her bare lower back, then placed his hands on her cheeks and asked if he could kiss her at a wedding in 2019, the first time she had met him.
Charlotte Bennett, a former Cuomo aide, and Lindsey Boylan, a former top economic development official, have described similar uncomfortable interactions with Cuomo, who has denied the accounts but apologized for what he called “playful” interactions that he said were misconstrued.
On Tuesday, six socialist members of New York’s Legislature called on Cuomo to step down, joining Long Island U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, the first Democratic member of Congress to do so. That followed a third report of inappropriate behavior late Monday.
Other members of the New York congressional delegation were more cautious, saying the investigation should play out before they call for Cuomo to quit.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who is also from New York, said the “serious, very troubling” allegations should be investigated. So did New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and other lawmakers.
New York Assemblyman Ron Kim, whose account of a browbeating by Cuomo helped spark the current controversy, said that he and other Democrats are “building consensus” on ousting Cuomo.
“There are a few of us, we’re pushing for impeachment, and there are more people every day who ask him to step down and resign,” Kim said Tuesday during an interview on Bloomberg Quicktake.
James has been charged with choosing an outside attorney to look into Cuomo’s behavior in office.
“I don’t think he deserves the privilege of governing in New York state,” Kim said. “Woman after woman is coming out accusing him of abusive behavior.”
Jay Jacobs, the state’s Democratic party chairman, urged leaders to allow James’ investigation into the “serious, disturbing” allegations against Cuomo to move forward.
“It is both premature and unfair for anyone to opine on the outcome until that investigation is completed and the results reported,” Jacobs said Tuesday in a statement.
“In the meantime, our state has a budget to complete, a pandemic to fight and the people’s work must continue,” he said.
The lawmakers who called for his resignation, though, said Cuomo has created a culture that has allowed for bullying and harassment in the Statehouse.
“The accounts of sexual harassment from the women who have courageously come forward confirm what many in Albany have known for years: that Governor Cuomo uses his power to belittle, bully and harass his employees and colleagues,” said the lawmakers, including state Sens. Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport and four members of the state Assembly.
Kim, who recently accused Cuomo of threatening to “destroy” him over his comments about the governor’s handling of nursing homes, noted parallels with accusations against former President Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women, saying that Democrats needed to be consistent.
“We were calling on Republicans to do the right thing for Trump for years,” he said. “Now it’s our turn to hold our executive accountable. This is our credibility on the line.”
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